Archive for Motorcycles

Lenore: Back on the Road

Lenore’s front brakes began to squeal at the end of the last riding season. I thought about taking her to a mechanic, but I knew that could get expensive, depending upon the problem. I mulled it over all Winter, and finally decided to man up and tackle it myself.

After a little research, I knew it had to be bad brake pads or it was time to bleed the brake line. One surf through Amazon and I had pads on the way for under twelve bucks, shipped. Tell me I can make that happen through a mechanic!

Shortly after that I picked up some DOT4 brake fluid for around five bucks and two lengths of plastic tubing for a buck and a half. Tuesday afternoon, my eldest son and I went to work.

Well there’s your problem!

The old brake pads were definitely shot. I couldn’t tell how much pad they had left before removing them because I didn’t know what I was looking at. Once I got them off the caliper, I could see they were just about down to bare metal.

We inserted the new brake pads, then we bled the brake line. All in all a piece of cake, and I love that the bike came with all of the tools we needed. My son even learned a few things in the process, and for once it was more than just creative cussing.

Good as new!

I took her for a test drive that night. Brakes worked like a champ! Less than twenty bucks and I’m back on the road. Next up she’ll get a bath, a fresh coat of chain lube, and an oil change, and all will be right with the world.

Now the weather just needs to behave.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Family Bike Rally

Last Sunday, we hosted the Wife’s family reunion at the local park, and most of us biked in.

The Bikes

Lenore is in the middle of the pack

I’m still waiting to hear the rumors about the biker gang that took over the park building. My bike was already there when they arrived, but it was something listening to them all come rolling through the park. I shot a video of them rolling out at the end of the day, but Instagram was happy to hose it all up for me.

This is most of the bikes in the family, a mix of Harleys and Hondas with a Kawasaki and a Star for variety. Missing from the photo are two Honda Gold Wings, a Harley Electra Glide, a Harley Street Glide, an old Suzuki Cavalcade, and at least one or two more Harley cruisers. Most of the family have been riders for a long time, some of whom are just getting back into riding and some of whom never gave up their bikes. A few more have hopped on two wheels within the last five years or so.

The family is having a short ride again this weekend, but they’re in downstate Illinois and I’ve got other commitments. One of these days I’ll get down there and run with the pack, though.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Lenore: Free at Last!

I busted Lenore out of the garage at last.

Lenore is free at last!

“Freeeedooooom!”

It’s about time, too. Most of the Spring Break weather sucked, and the rest was a matter of not having the time and running the Rugrats everywhere.

Today I rolled her out, fired her up, and checked the chains, cables, and lights & signals. I rode her down to the gas station to fill up her tank and check her tire pressure, and then I took the long way home all around town to get some wind and work the throttle a bit.

Even that short ride felt great. The little things came rushing back: the feel of looking through and leaning into turns, the tiny catch in her upshift from 1st gear to second, the sweet spot to throttle on between gears. Finding that sync with the machine? That’s Zen, my friends.

Here’s hoping I can stay out of the cage for a while.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

A Productive Fourth

All fingers accounted for? Check. Both eyes accounted for? Check. Balls still attached? Check. House hasn’t burned down? Check. Excellent. Any 4th where everything survives is a good one, especially with neighbors setting off their own fireworks in the field behind us.

I had the day off at the day job, but I still had work to do. I wrote the last of the ancillary materials to go with “Bravo Four”, the short story I posted a cover for on Monday. I also wrote a column by invitation for a webzine, and if it’s approved I imagine it will go up soon. It felt good to be able to spend a significant chunk of the day at the keyboard.

Not that I didn’t get out and witness some Americana. Check out this Harley-Davidson:

Copper Harley

Copper-colored Harley. Gorgeous paint scheme.

If memory serves, this is an anniversary edition paint scheme, and a friend of mine has a die-cast model of the same bike with the same colors. He almost purchased the bike itself, but concerns of safety and family prevailed and he purchased a boat instead. Too cool to see the same bike out in the wild.

We saw the local fireworks display last night, and this afternoon we saw the flags posted all around the streets in neighboring communities and did a little light grocery and gas shopping like the good little consumers we are. I even managed to squeeze the day’s weight lifting in between reviewing the publication master for “Bravo Four”. All in all I’d have to call it a good day, and it felt especially good to be productive at the keyboard.

Tomorrow it’s back to the day gig. Given it’s the middle of the year, it will also be a good time to revisit the Exit Strategy.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

On Busted Thumbs and Heart Attacks

Most of you have met Lenore.

Brick Road

How're YOU doin', beautiful?

I took her to get her chain tightened—and, as it turned out, replaced—today, just as the Illinois weather decided to make up for the early warm weather it gave us by dropping back into the 40s and 50s. Ah, well. That’s what leather and sweatshirts are  for.

Then I learned it’s damn near impossible to manipulate turn signals with a busted thumb. Last night while sparring in karate class, I somehow managed to block my opponent’s knee using only my thumb. My thumb lost, and now the first knuckle doesn’t want to bend and it’s swollen like a sausage on a too-hot grill. My scream of agony every time I manipulated the switch probably did a better job of catching surrounding motorists’ attention than my turn signal did. I thought about switching to hand signals, but these days I’m pretty sure there’s only one hand signal that most drivers recognize, and that one won’t do me any good.

Then I stared death in the face.

I left Lenore in the tender care of the mechanics at Grayboy in the Heights and asked them where I could get breakfast. A big dude runs the service desk, and he pointed out the window to a shabby gray structure two doors down from their main building.

“Go there,” he said. “If you like meat, they’ll give you plenty. You won’t even be able to finish it.”

Challenge accepted.

Understand, I’m standing in a spot two blocks from downtown Peoria Heights with its high-end eateries like French Toast and Noir, and its array of trendy little boutique shops. The Silver Dollar, on the other hand, is a dark little bar in the other direction. On the plus side, chances were it would be more affordable.

I walked in and a friendly woman behind the bar handed me a type-written menu. A quick scan turned up Mikey’s Special: a toasted biscuit topped with a sausage patty, three eggs over easy, and cheese, all smothered in sausage gravy.

It looks like this:

The Mikey Special. Holy shit.

Holy shit.

If my doctor were sitting with me, he’d have punched me square in the face and tripled my cholesterol meds for the next six months. That plate is bigger than my iPad. I took out  a fork and cut into this thing, and it bled bright, golden egg yolk. I could already feel my heart cringing against my spine and begging me not to eat it. My brain reminded me I’m running the Warrior Dash in three weeks, and this wouldn’t help the cause.

My belly said “Pump it in!”

As evil as this thing looks, it tasted even better. The sausage patty was thick like a quality hamburger, and juicy without being greasy. Few places get gravy right, but the Silver Dollar nailed it: thick and peppery without being gummy. And yes, I finished the whole thing. When I returned for Lenore, the service guy was astonished. He advised me to not fall asleep while riding this afternoon.

Now my blood runs like sludge in my veins.

It’s a good thing I have at least two workouts coming today. I’m going to need them.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Surrounded by Idiots

Many of us feel this way all the time anyway, but if you’re going to ride a motorcycle, you have to behave as if it were true.

In Peoria last week, a woman turned and ran straight into a motorcyclist. He landed in the hospital in critical condition. They mention a head injury, but don’t mention whether he wore a helmet. No excuse was listed for the driver of the car, but I imagine it was your typical “I didn’t see him” response.

In California, another pinhead tried to use his smartphone to record video of a group of bikers, and he knocked two of them down in the process. In response, they knocked him around and threatened him with a knife. I’m not going to say that’s the right way to handle it, but given the incident, I’m not surprised.

Start Seeing Motorcycles

I’ve been forced to keep my own cool twice this year already.

First, a young woman tailgated me coming out of town. The speed limit jumps from 35 to 55, and I tend to be hard on the throttle so I was right up at 55. I had a turn coming up in a half mile, though, so saw no reason to go any faster until she tried to drive her little red POS up my tailpipe. I put my signal on well ahead of time so she knew I’d be slowing down, and instead of passing me, she just stayed glued to my bumper. I thought about stopping right in front of her, then walking back to have a little chat, but I imagine she’d have freaked out and run me over in self defense. Instead I hugged the shoulder and did my best to stay out of her way when she rocketed past me at the intersection.

In another in-town incident, a van started to back out of a driveway. It was some distance ahead of me, but not far enough that, were I driving a car, it would have been safe or smart to back out. I let off the throttle and covered the brake and clutch, and sure enough, the van showed no intention of stopping. So I stopped, and I watched as an elderly woman eased back out of the driveway, backed toward me, and stopped about eight feet in front of my front tire. Then she just sat in the lane.

And sat, and sat. I don’t know if she saw me and panicked, or thought I was going to pass her, or just got distracted and had something else to do. Someone in the passenger seat finally snapped her out of it and she got rolling… only to stop at the intersection. She had no stop sign, but watched the truck to her left—who did have a stop sign—sit and wait for her to make up her mind. Finally she crept around the corner to the right and drove way. I just shrugged at the truck driver and rode on by. He seemed to get a kick out of that.

These are the people we all share the road with, whether we’re on a bicycle, a motorcycle, or in a car. The nice thing about riding the motorcycle is I’ve become more alert even when I drive the family grocery getter. I’ve spotted and slowed for things the Wife hadn’t noticed. I’ve become better at predicting when someone is about to do something stupid, like yesterday when a woman raced ahead of our van, then swept across our lane and into a right turn lane.

If I’m rolling up on someone at an intersection and I don’t make eye contact with them, I assume they’re about to screw me. Illinois may be a helmet-optional state, but I don’t drive out of town without one. When I get my hands on the Bell Drifter DLX I’ve been eyeballing a while, I intend to wear it even on the short trips.

I see riders all day every day. Thousands ride together without incident. The odds are probably in my favor. However, I’m going to pad those odds out as best I can.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Pulse Check

Yes, I’m alive.

It’s been a long week, followed by a long weekend of travel.

This happened:

Cerveza Rita!

BRILLIANT!

I enjoyed it with Cullen Bunn, who deserved to celebrate because this happened:

The Sixth Gun vol 3

You must buy it.

My copy arrived from Amazon today. I may crack it open tonight.

The Cerveza Rita/Corona Rita followed a night of Irish Car Bombs. A night in which I intended to be a good boy, but B had a bad day and a birthday and there was much commiseration and celebration (and he got his ass handed to him by a waitress).

Like I said, long weekend.

Also, I saw these:

Brand new classics.

Homina homina homina

Brand spankin’ new with the 103 engine. I kept hoping the owners would come out while we were waiting, see if I couldn’t try one for fit, or at least hear them fire them up. Lenore’s a good bike, but her engine doesn’t hold a candle to the 103 and she isn’t made for long hauls.

My son kept eyeballing that Ninja in the right of the fame. We explained to him the error of his ways. “But Dad, it’s called a Ninja!” Some kids have to learn the hard way. We can only hope he’ll figure it out when he sees the insurance quotes.

We have three weeks of school left, so things will quiet down soon. Then I can get back to some real business around here. Photo Friday pics were taken, some writing got done, but for now I figured I’d best close out April with something on the page.

More later.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Use It or Lose It

Now that we know how to practice and how to get feedback, we circle back to practice, practice, practice.

You’ve all heard it before: use it or lose it. You’ve got to keep at a skill to stay sharp.

Every Spring before I get back on the bike, there’s that brief moment of readjustment before I hit my stride and really take off. I know several motorcyclists who took a decade or two off their bikes, then caught the bug again. They remember how to ride, how to shift, but the little things like looking through the turn (something you don’t have to worry about in a car) take conscious effort to bring back.

Eve

Not that we'd ever forget our first ride

I know several people who took martial arts as a kid or a teenager. Ask them to demonstrate a kata ten years later and they have no idea. Some barely remember how to throw a proper punch. It’s no different from people who took Spanish in high school, never had cause to use it, and now don’t remember a word.

It doesn’t take decades to lose it, either. A good friend and fellow karateka missed a lot of class time last year due to injury and a return to college. He remembers the basics, but when he performs one of the more recent kata for his rank, he’ll stop in the middle of it and get that blank “oh shit” stare as he tries to remember the next step.

Karate Moleskine

The knowledge is locked away, waiting to be rediscovered

My instructors use a phrase frequently: “Practice makes permanent.”

On the motorcycle or in karate class, muscle memory will often take over. I don’t think about shifting gears, it just happens. If I consciously think through the steps of a kata, my body will often be three steps ahead already. I’ve learned to relax my mind and let the body take over.

In a sense, this works for writing, too.

Staying in the habit of writing makes it easier to slip into the groove. Your mind knows “this is writing time” and things click into place. Some writers need a trigger, like a walk around the block or a song playlist. Others have a specific time of day to write, such as right before work or after the family goes to bed. Full-time writers may have a set routine; Richard Laymon said he wrote in the morning, had lunch and a nap, wrote in the afternoon, and spent the evening with his family.

Brainstorming

Even brainstorming flexes the creative muscles

Practice brings routine. I ride the bike to and from work. I have class three times a week. I write… well, I’ll admit that routine is often shaken up by my schedule. But now that it’s warmer, if I sit outside with a cigar and the iPad I’ll be able to produce some serious word counts again.

Writing in a write-when-I-can method means taking a few minutes to shake off the rust, even if it’s just been a few days since my last session. I fiddle with iTunes, scroll through email, maybe open up Instapaper and see if there’s a short article or piece of flash fiction I saved. I have to find a trigger. If I sit outside on a warm night, though, all I have to do is light a cigar and connect the keyboard and I’m off to the races.

We learn a skill or take up a craft for a reason. Keep using it, keep learning, keep practicing.

Stay sharp.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Feedback Loop

When studying our own work, it’s difficult to be objective. Most of the time we’re either too easy on ourselves or too hard on ourselves. While the latter may be more preferable in some cases, it can still be counter-productive.

This is when it’s time to seek an outside opinion.

In riding a motorcycle, I simply have someone follow me. It may be my wife following in a car, or I may take a short trip  with a more experienced rider. When I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s riding class, our instructors watched us ride around the course and told us what we were doing right and what we could improve.

In karate, my instructors watch us in class and offer pointers. Even when they say nothing and move on to the next person, it tells us we’re doing just fine (for the moment). It’s also not uncommon for us to ask our fellow students to watch for something specific as we perform a kata.

Then we have writing, where feedback gets a lot messier.

Road Warrior

Yet we keep at it anyway.

First and foremost, we have to understand who we are seeking feedback from. Your mom, for example, is probably not going to give you an objective opinion. If that writers circle at the local coffee shop is full of romance writers and you ask for a critique on your splatterpunk opus, you’re not going to get an objective opinion.

Second, fans and reviewers are great, but don’t take their feedback individually. Know up front that no matter what you write, your work is not going to please everyone. You won’t even please all of your fans all the time! Don’t let a glowing, five-star review inflate your ego (too much), and don’t let a mean-spirited, one-star review shatter your hopes and dreams. Look instead for trends. There’s a big difference between one reader saying your protagonist is an unlikeable prick and half your reviewers saying they just didn’t care about your characters.

Third, not every editor is truly an editor. Examine their track record. Take a good look at what they’re asking you to change or what questions they’re asking about your work. Pay special attention if you’re getting the same feedback from several editors or agents during the submission process. I’m not just talking about laziness or inability, either. Some editors simply want to rewrite your manuscript the way they would have written it. This is your work and they should be helping you develop your voice, not molding you into their clone.

Fourth, stay out of the comments section on news and review websites. Seriously. It will save your sanity. Forums can be iffy, too, with their frequent circle jerk and sympathy threads. There’s a fine line between participating in a community and drinking their Kool-Aid.

Finally, it’s okay to pay an editor or book doctor. Not every rejection letter is going to come with comments and suggestions, so you may need to find an objective third party to help you out. Just be sure to get references first, and don’t be afraid to talk to their other clients. Just as anyone can claim to be an editor, any hack will be happy to cash your check in exchange for reading your manuscript.

Practice is critical, but nobody thrives in a vacuum. Seek feedback, but learn to separate the good from the bad.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Practice (with Purpose) Makes Perfect

Practice is important, but just going through the motions is a waste of time.

When I jump on the motorcycle, I can twist the throttle and go if that’s all I choose to do. In the “it’s just like riding a bike” sense, it’s that easy. Motorcycles want to go in a straight line.

Moto Photo 1

Hey, this is EASY!

Then come those pesky turns to mess it all up.

A rider needs to look through the turns. In regular riding, his knees should hug the gas tank. He should know when to roll on and off the throttle, how much brake to apply, how far to lean, and when to up- or downshift. It sounds like a lot, but in time it becomes natural, and when a turn doesn’t go quite as planned, it’s time to break it down and figure out what can be done better next time (especially if the rider just slammed into a tree on the corner).

This doesn’t take obstacles into account, either. Ride behind motorcycles long enough, and eventually you’ll catch a rider doing some lazy swerves back and forth in his lane, or performing sudden changes in his riding line. It may be simple boredom, it may be he’s trying to warm up or clean his tires, or it may very well be the rider getting a feel for his bike. Riders can run over rabbits and squirrels, but if a child or large animal runs into the street, the rider needs to have his avoidance technique down pat.

Practice, practice, practice, and study the result.

Karate works the same way. It’s not unusual to see someone just walk through a kata and throw some weak-ass punches. They may know “step into a front stance, throw a right front kick, shift 90° left, middle block,” but it doesn’t mean it’s going to look good.

AOKFFD - Kokutsu Dachi

Years of proper practice shows.

To improve our karate, we will examine our hand positions before and after techniques, or the angle or depth of our stances. We will perform our kata in front of a mirror or video camera. We ask ourselves if that last kick would have been effective, or what exercises might improve our speed, flexibility, and/or power. It’s not just about getting the technique out there, it’s about getting the technique correct.

And yes, this applies to writing.

Dashing off a draft, calling a work done and uploading it to Amazon isn’t doing the writer, the work, or the reader any favors.

Percolatin'

A little tunage doesn't hurt the process

Writers study the craft by reading and rewriting their own work as well as reading the work of others. Word choice, narrative tricks, plot, and characterization are just a few of the tools a writer wants to master. All that grammar and sentence structure our English teachers forced down our throats? Yeah, kind of important, too. Know the rules, then know when to break them.

We have to examine our work with an objective eye. This is where reading a work aloud comes into play, or why some writers will set a draft aside for a few days or a few weeks before coming back to it. Any writer who believes their work is perfect isn’t looking hard enough.

So yes, by all means, keep punching those keys.

But punch them with purpose.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Practice, Practice, Practice

It’s often said 10,000 repetitions leads to mastery. Practice something enough, you become good at it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Every time I get the motorcycle out of the garage for the season, I feel better about my riding skill than at the same time the year before. Turns feel more graceful, shifting feels smoother, and I feel more relaxed in the saddle.

PicPlz Lenore

Lenore likes the way I handle her

Every ride is practice. I may take the long way home from time to time for fun, but it’s also an opportunity to put more miles under the tires and more time in at the controls. If miles are reps, then I’ve got some time before I hit 10,000, but I’m plugging away.

It applies to karate for sure, whether we’re talking about kata or specific techniques. My dojo stresses hard the importance of practicing at home, and when review rolls around, it’s easy to pick out the students who have been practicing and those who haven’t been. Some say those of us progressing through the ranks make it look easy, but they’re only seeing our class time, not the many hours we’re putting in at home on our own.

Shihan and I

Shihan Joseph Walker and I when I received my 1st degree brown belt

I’ve been spending more time on the weights and on the track than doing karate at home of late, but I still get my ass to class and get my practice in. Over the next two days, I plan to put in at least an hour each day as last-minute prep for a karate seminar this weekend. I don’t want to be a guy they pick out as not practicing my art enough.

It’s all about practice, practice, practice, and it applies to everything, even writing.

Yes, that’s right, you should be practicing writing. Though instead of 10,000 repetitions, you’re looking at a million words or so. The saying goes something like this:

Every writer has a million words of bullshit stuck in their head. Once he gets these million words out of the way, the real writing starts to appear.

I first heard this from Mike Baron at a comic convention, and it’s been attributed to Ray Bradbury and several other greats. Get your butt in the chair and get writing if you want to get better. Writing is a craft that can be learned, practiced, and improved, just like any other skill.

The Only Way to Write

It's cigar season again!

It pains me to look at my older work. Everything from my word choices to my sentence structure to my dialog just seems… raw. I have no doubt I’ve become a better writer over the years, and I think many of my colleagues and readers agree.

Every writer will tell a similar story. Ask Tom Piccirilli what he thinks of Dark Father sometime.  Most of us have trunk novels that we later came to realize are part of the million words we needed to get out of  our brains (I have two). Many writers who appear to have just arrived on the scene have a stash of cringe-worthy sales to now-defunct small press rags they hope will never see the light of day again.

Now, are these works really that bad? Not necessarily, but you get the idea. A writer’s craft changes and evolves. Some may contribute it to age, or maturity, or studying others’ works or taking classes, but it all amounts to practice. Keep hammering the keys until the words start to play nice. Write, rewrite, and repeat.

Which brings us to the only bit of writing advice that counts:

Put ass in chair.

I first heard it from Norm Partridge who said he heard it from Joe Lansdale. Whatever the source, you have to love its simplicity. Sit down and write. Practice your craft.

You can get better.

You will get better.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

God of Thunder and Leather

That’s what it feels like riding the bike after so long leaving her cooped up in the garage.

It feels so metal leathering up and blasting down the road, even through the barren, unplanted fields of flat ol’ Illinois.

Moto Photo 1

Twist on the throttle and go

It’s good to be back in the saddle. The threatened rains have held off, the winds aren’t as bad as people would think, and I can deal with temps down into the 50s.

I’m sensing some quick bike trips in the near future.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.